Well, we knew September was going to be busy…and sure enough we’re seeing the opening moves in a major attack on funding for bike projects and programs.
This evening, the President talks to the nation about jobs and infrastructure, and he’ll likely repeat his plea for Congress to pass a “clean” extension to the Federal transportation program. The House Republican response includes an explicit demand that funding for bicycling and walking infrastructure be stripped out of the program.
Quick bit of background: the current transportation bill that funds highway, transit and bike/pedestrian improvements across the country basically expires at the end of this month. Congress either has to write a new law (highly unlikely) or agree to continue or extend the existing program for a set period until they write a new long-term law for the next five or six years. And, they can either pass a “clean” extension – not changing anything, just continuing what we’ve had since 2005 – or they might try to change a few things along the way.
Senator Coburn (OK) has said he won’t agree to an extension unless funding for bike projects is stripped out. Representatives Boehner and Cantor have basically said the same thing in the House. Yes, folks, they are willing to hold the entire transportation program hostage – infrastructure spending and millions of real jobs – to get rid of bike projects.
Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved their extension bill. It’s clean. Most likely, Coburn will try to force a vote on the floor of the Senate next week to strip out the popular transportation enhancements program…which funds the lion’s share of bike and pedestrian projects around the country. So, if you’ve ridden on a bike trail or bike lanes, or used a bike rack on the front of a bus in the last few years…the chances are you’ve seen the program in action. And if Coburn, Cantor and Boehner succeed, we’ll see a dramatic drop-off in bicycling safety improvements.
Why would they do this, I hear you ask. After all, bike projects create jobs; bike projects improve safety; more bicyclists means less congestion, cleaner air, less oil consumption, fitter and healthier American’s. It’s baffling. It’s not like the transportation program is going to be cut by the amount they strip out for bike funding…no, the money still gets spent but it will likely buy us another mile or two of freeway instead of thousands of small-scale, labor-intensive bicycling and walking improvements.
Equally, the enhancements program is hardly eating up a massive chunk of the transportation program. Even though Cantor and Boehner like to leave the impression that it’s ten percent of the transportation program…it isn’t. Not even close. It’s ten percent of one of dozens of programs that make up the overall program. In fact, enhancements account for barely one percent of Federal transportation funds.
Another myth you’ll hear – most likely from Coburn’s camp – is that states will still be able to spend their funds on bicycling projects if they choose to do so. While that’s technically true, the reality is that most states will stop spending a dime on bike projects overnight. Utah has already stopped their program in anticipation; they just can’t wait!
We have to stop them. We need to save cycling! Go to our on-line advocacy center right now to contact your members of Congress. Tell them you support continued dedicated funding for bicycling and walking projects, and you support a clean extension to the transportation bill.
Andy Clarke was appointed to the position of Executive Director in April of 2004 after successfully leading efforts to create, interpret and implement the various transportation programs that are available to improve conditions for bicycling and walking as the League’s State and Local Advocacy Director. Before joining the League in February 2003, Clarke was on contract to provide technical assistance to the highly regarded Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center on site at the Federal Highway Administration. He is on the Board of Directors for America Bikes, and a member of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycling Professionals.